Watch CBSN Live

Egypt President Sisi issues decree that could free some Al Jazeera journalists

CAIRO - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued a decree allowing him to extradite foreigners who are in pretrial detention or already serving prison sentences in Egypt back to their home countries, reports CBS News' Alex Ortiz.

The text of the law, issued by the president's spokesperson, says the decree is "in the interest of the nation ... and to maintain the international image of Egypt."

Though no officials have formally made the connection, the implication is that this law could be used to send imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists back home -- or at least two of them. Peter Greste is Australian and Mohamed Fahmy is Egyptian-Canadian. The third, Baher Mohamed, is Egyptian.

After a trial that dragged on for six months,... 01:53

Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed were arrested in December in a raid on the Cairo hotel room they were using as an office, as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

They were accused of supporting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organization. They also faced charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war.

Their initial jailing on terrorism charges caused an international outcry.

In a statement at the time, Al-Jazeera said the verdict "defies logic, sense, and any semblance of justice," and vowed to "continue with resolve until Peter, Baher and Mohamed are free."

The network insisted there was "not a shred of evidence" against its journalists.

The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and being tried in absentia. Two defendants among 14 others on trial in the case were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The prosecution accused the journalists of fabricating news reports in support of the Brotherhood -- with pro-government media even labeling the team as the "Marriott Cell" after the central Cairo hotel where they were arrested.

In a written statement issued after the verdict and sentences were announced, the Public Prosecutor's office said the men had been convicted of creating recordings and other material "to be shown to others and presented before the public in Egypt and abroad, with the aim of giving the impression to foreign public opinion that Egypt is undergoing a civil war, in order to weaken the state and its standing, harm the national interests of the country, agitate public security, spread terror among the people, and damage public interests."

CBS News' Alex Ortiz explained, however, that the prosecution offered little real evidence to back up those charges. They paraded pieces of equipment commonly used by broadcast journalists, such as cameras and tripods, in front of the court as if they were bloodied murder weapons.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.